My Digital Journey
Where to begin? I started my own company in 2007 called Infinite-Realities. Little did I know there was a recession looming…
I hope this blog post might inspire others to follow the same path in the future.
3D Scanning was for the wealthy and elite of the VFX industry, mainly large companies with good networks ruled this land. It was a tough field to break. Something new had to re-shape it, change the dynamics a little.
In 2007 I was broke. Lost my job. 50k in debt. No home or business. But I had an idea that had been with me since 2002. A dream to replicate humans digitally to perfection. I was tired of doing this by hand, using traditional computer graphics methods, hand crafting, polygon by polygon, texture unwrapping, using Google or 3D.sk for reference and sculpting etc.
I registered my first company in 2007, towards the end of the year. My online avatar on various forums had always been INFINITE (I have an obsession with the Universe and Infinity) All .com’s for Ininite, Inifnity had been taken so I had to hybrid something together. www.infinite-realities.net was available (the .com was for some gaming site) so that was it, later to become www.ir-ltd.net
Most people don’t realize the intention behind the name of the company, like many others being obsessed with Virtual Reality back in the 90′s (which had stalled) the name was inspired from this. I used to search every 5 years or so since ’95 to see how things had progressed, a very stagnant market ..that was until 2012 and Oculus VR (I will come back to that later).
So Infinite meaning “many”, or “all things”, “never ending”. Realities comes from the possible realities that “may come” or that “are” or “can be”. The name of my company was designed for VR, nothing to do with digital scanning. Scanning is just a byproduct of the end goal. Virtual Reality and being at the forefront of creating a digital multiverse, which will of course need digital humans or AI hybrids to populate them.
Designs were researched.. how can it be done? quickly and reliably? without the need for hand crafting each person by hand.
(idea design from 2007)
This was my first concept of how to automate or archive the creation of digital humans. Good solid reference, multi-angle image reference would be crucial to replicating humans. I had never heard of Photogrammetry but this would be the key.
Dimensional Imaging were new to the commercial field (although having been researching since the 90′s) XYZ-RGB were developing there own solution “Scanner-Killer” that would be released in 2010 but in 2007 there was nothing. Only some basic structured light systems and the omnipotent Cyberware system. VERY expensive laser scanning devices.
Before registering Infinite-Realilties and starting the company. I had previously sent off my show-reel and CV to as many studios as I could think of. I got many rejection letters back from places like ILM, Lucasarts (Games division), WETA, Valve, Blur Studios, ID, Crytek you name it (very disheartening). Some of them I got close, phone interviews etc but ultimately due to 9/11, getting a VISA and not having a degree it was very difficult to go to the US to work. Still had any of these wanted me, I’m sure they would have made it happen. Which is a shame (BOO HOO! right? ) because I think I could have been of some use!
….and as it would turn out, ironically enough, most of these studios would end being clients of IR later in 2011-13!! a really fantastic position to be in, far better than if had I been tied down to one studio!
This was also the year that I got a CGTalk award for a digital character I had created that got alot of exposure on the web and places like Reddit. Even some adult sites still list the image to this day, mistaking it for a real person. I received a front page plug and a Showcase Award, big whoop right? The same year another piece was front page plugged on ZBrushCentral. At the time my CGTalk portfolio had around 2,000,000 visits, 2000 contacts, the 3rd most popular portfolio on the site and my Showcase Gallery image had been viewed nearly 1,000,000 times, the 2nd most viewed image to date. Some nice outside traffic for the site.
I was on to something, tapping into an adult interest, not just from the CG community but the public at large thanks to Reddit’s view count evidence. Nude adult models FTW.
Then my forum account and portfolio was blocked in 2010 and I was banned for speaking out against a bullish forum admin there.
I did have some impact on that CG “Art” scene.. many moons ago. All evidence since been erased from that waning site.
Here’s looking at you CG “Society” thanks for the’ head’ start
In 2008 I tried to see if I could secure some funding from family, a small start-up fund to buy equipment. I raised about £15k and was able to lease some studio space and buy some basic equipment. I then set about designing some capture rigs. To fund this development I teamed up with Alexander Tomchuk a very talented 3D Artist based in the Ukraine. Together we secured some freelance contracts on various projects. I also worked with Dani Garcia and Benjamin Leitgib (aka Selwy) The client list began to grow and we got to work on some cool projects.
The path of R&D was long..
Early rig concepts:
Future failed attempts from 2010!!
These were just me expressing my frustration at what to do, how to visualize what I had in my mind. I didn’t have the tools or expertise to do it, nor the money. But started slowly and researched. I was going to try and use webcams to capture reference of subjects but this was impossible due to bandwidth issues and not being able to hook up more than 1 webcam per PC. Then came the love hate relationship with DSLR’s…
The recession hits. Things get tough for alot people, every where.
The studio doors opened for the first time, a very crude rig had been built. Comprising of ABS plastic and some custom made Styrofoam balls with wooden and plastic inserts to join it all together. Real “Blue Peter” stuff.
I had also just raised enough money (by selling my car!) to purchase 9x Canon DSLR cameras. One of the first Canon multi-rig’s in the country, alongside Time-Slice Films. Yet I had no idea about photography, no clue about exposure speeds, f-stop or ISO settings. I couldn’t use 1 DSLR let alone 9 of them but I figured out how to wire and control them using Breeze Software. There was no manual on this, no one online to email or ring up, no tutorials on YouTube! The only other guys, off the grid researching this field were Disney. Super secret about their methods.
It was all cutting edge stuff, and the multi-camera world was VERY secretive. NDA’s all over.
The first time I fired all 9 cameras in quick succession was like a mechanical orchestra playing. Magical sound. It still gets to me but now I hear them in sync ..120 firing in a split second! chlick cheee..!!
Notice the wooden lighting control box, custom built and hand wired (flammable? just a little!) This enabled the control over the lights direction to achieve my first multi-lighting capture solution. 2009 was my first foray into working with nude models, a little daunting, no experience means slight troubles with booking them. Chicken before the egg scenario but this experience is built up over time. I’ve since worked with 100′s, you get to meet some really cool people.
I started the ir-ref webstore, to showcase the multi-light, multi-angle reference. The images were terrible. The idea was solid. There was a market and the early sales figures proved it.
That same year I noticed (very briefly) that 3D.SK copied the multi-camera idea! they had a multi-camera flash tool on their site for a few weeks but it didn’t last long.
DI capture images:
(featuring the wonderful Joceline, my favorite model to work with. Fun, experienced and super professional, plus stunning )
Not long after I managed to secure IR’s first big character contract and after being demoed a Dimensional Imaging kit in Glasgow, I purchased a DI 4x DSLR rig. Very cool, very powerful at the time. Great guys, talented researchers in the field of face scanning. But the system was super expensive, 80% of the contract went to pay for this.
See those Interfit flash lights? (they don’t sell them anymore) YEAH. They tend to explode, frequently. Like ticking time bombs, not good for the ol’heart! or for the models disposition.
I was still living below minimum wage and continue to do so to this day, if you want to run a successful business ….don’t blow the money on yourself, with dividends or wages. Play the long game. The future rewards are incredible.
More capture images for the contract:
At this point I was now able to scan faces, 180 degrees, using a 3rd party consumer product.
Promising. A million miles a way from 360 face capture but I was able to start capturing FACS expressions for rigging and animating with.
I had also invested in an Artec-M, the black box model, way before Artec-Group had any resellers in the UK, or any support structure in the EU. To demo the scanner I had to travel to Gatwick, to a hotel room! to see it running. It was so cool I had to buy one for the contract, imported from the mother land, Russia!!
The Artec was fun, but at the time it had no Non-Rigid Regsitration, which I helped get implemented after my encounter with the very talented Hao Li (master of Non-Rigid Registration and ex ILM researcher) eventually in 2010. I had convince both Hao and Artec (after many emails!) to join forces and integrate the code into Artec’s software.
Since 2011, even a toddler could use an Artec
Early Artec scans:
Testing fullbody with the Artec:
(The lack of GPS or infrared tracking for global fusion, was a BIG let down for the scanner)
(3d scanning before it was cool )